American fiction writer, author of Psycho Robert Bloch, in his introduction to Mike Magnolia’s Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction claims that Hellboy opines that although comics are meant to entertain, with it comes a complicated, intriguing and demanding message which has often been cast aside as ‘sleazy vehicles of violence’.
Bloch observes that this owes to the name comics have made for themselves as stories that lacked depth. However, Bloch claims that comics such as Hellboy have evolved for the better. But do comics really qualify as literature which is often considered high-caliber story telling? Or is it, in fact, art? It is not often that a local comic enjoys the spotlight in local media and Nation stepped forward to introduce an all-local comic, Chathurmana, brainchild of Uvindu Sandakath.
Uvindu Sandakath is the youngest in his family. Both his elder sisters and his mother are teachers. His father is a journalist. An alumnus of D.S. Senanayake College, Uvindu is currently reading for his BA special degree in English Literature at Sri Jayawardanepura University.
Learning the ropes
He read his very first superhero comic, Batman Hush, back in 2006 and to date it is still one of his favourites. “It made such a huge impact on me and my friends that we started creating sketch comics whenever we could spare the time.” This marked the beginning of PRUVE, consisting of a bunch of six graders at the time. “We had neither the skill nor the knowledge to be serious about it, but since the day we started we never really took a break. The team grew larger and our collective skill grew sharper with it,” reminisces Uvindu.
He always made up stories ever since he could barely read or write. Growing up Uvindu was not your average straight A student.
So he invested a lot of time in reading and drawing, making up his own stories. His parents never discouraged him, but instead backed him to pursue his passion. Uvindu learned the ropes of comic art via the internet. In fact he says it’s an ongoing learning process. He got into creating his own comics 11 years ago. He has made over 100 stories so far, things that he has worked on for years. “As a story teller, making a comic seemed like the easiest way to convey my ideas, so becoming a good comic artist came to be
a life goal.”
Uvindu says that creating comics is one of the most personally satisfying things ever. “An artiste of any form craves to be expressed. As a writer, I write poetry to satiate this craving, but the nature of that art form is that the readers may interpret it as they wish. Consequently, the reader may miss some idea or an entire story,” points out Uvindu. But he says that comics are like the book form of a movie. “It’s impossible for the reader to miss any part of the story you are trying to tell. On the other hand, it is just fulfilling to watch a little geek kid read the book you created and say ‘wow’ under his breath. It’s one hell of an
Essentially Sri Lankan
But Chathurmana beats them all in terms of self-satisfaction, says Uvindu. Chathurmana is his first work to be formally presented to the public. Chathurmana is an essentially a Sri Lankan comic grounded in Buddhist culture. The entire story revolves around Sri Lanka’s factual and mythological histories. “I wouldn’t go so far as to claim it’s very cultural, but it is heavily inspired by our heritage,” explains Uvindu. For instance the world of Chathurmana is based on Buddhist theology. The very title means ‘4 dimensions’: heaven, hell, earth and the Nagha dimension, a world frequently mentioned in Buddhist literature.
Chathurmana is different from foreign comics in that it does not display the classic text book heroics of mainstream comics. “The story has a very existential tone to it,” says Uvindu. He says he constantly checks his characters, imbuing in them humane qualities, in an attempt to set them apart from the usual comic franchises today. “The characters in my story would not be identified merely with their abilities, but instead their overall personality,” explains Uvindu. Chathurmana consist of supernatural beings and the story revolves around how they affect everyday life in a scale that we cannot fathom. “Consequently, instead of black and white characters,
Chathurmana is a story with much grey in it. One would have a hard time deciding who the
antagonist is, or for that matter, who the hero is.” Just as in the real world.
Lines of morality blur
Chathurmana is a comic where classic lines of morality between good and bad blur. “It’s about how abstract the world is. No matter how many systems we build to keep mankind from falling apart, we are designed to falter by nature. Because we were created by chance and we will return to dust by chance. The only value and purpose we find in this universe is the one that we allocate ourselves as individuals,” was the heady description Uvindu gave about his pet project.
Only the first chapter of the series has been released. Although this barely scratches the surface of the story, Uvindu says that the feedback has been amazing. The first chapter was published first on Facebook and Uvindu later printed 40 copies, 30 of which were put on sale at SLCG 2015/Comic con. “It sold out within two days and it was appreciated among the local geek community.”
When it was being released three pages a day on Facebook, I received a lot of encouraging messages and support from the online fan base. They were mostly glad to have an ongoing comic series based on Sri Lanka.
Chathurmana is essentially a one man show. Both, the story and sketches, are by Uvindu. “That’s why it took me so long to get chapter two to the drawing board.” Uvindu also appreciated the team at PRUVE comics he works with. “Everyone there has been very supportive with story editing and promotion work.”
When asked how he perfected two professions such as sketching and writing, Uvindu confides that his success lies in observation and practice. “Observing real events, reading other stories, specifically local folklore, I constantly research to improve the detail of my stories with anything that I can take from the outside world.” Uvindu says the inspiration is natural after so many years working on his pet project.
“Whether it’s a song, a poem, a movie or music – I mostly listen to soundtracks instead of vocals – I always try to apply Chathurmana somewhere. I imagine some part of my story in a very
cinematic sense which I have come to realize
is a good way of story development.”
Uvindu’s typical work routine involves constantly developing the story in his mind. He admits
readily that he uses the clinical definition of an introvert and therefore has lot of time to
engage in story development. But for actually creating the comic, he first creates a rough
sketch of the entire comic consisting of every small
detail and reference written on the drawings instead of creating a comic script. He explained that this method is called ‘comic mapping’, a neat trick that the PRUVE team came up with, to save time. “Once it is approved by everyone in the team, I get into the line art which would take me weeks to finish. The colouring and final touches would take few more weeks.
When asked whether he used models for character development, Uvindu explained that he builds his characters on two aspects; personality and the appearance. “Personality is based on someone I know personally. I will exaggerate, twist or even merge characteristics to get the exact character personality I need. Once that is done, I will proceed to the appearance. It entirely depends on the personality, and the specific timeline or the region the character operates on in the story. For instance, if the character is an agile, sly thief, I would not equip him with heavy steel armor, and if the character is from 1800s, I will do due research on the fashion standards of 1800s.”
Uvindu says that the uniqueness that all comic art entail depends entirely on the artist. “To be honest, even though comics are unique among other art forms, comic art isn’t all that unique in the comic community itself. Because everyone is inspired by some other style of artist, so they merge their own characteristics with the artist they follow to arrive at some sort of uniqueness. It is only very rarely we come across a truly unique style. A good example is Mobius (Jean Giraud) who introduced a truly unique style to comics through his works such as ‘Arzach’.”
Uvindu has also developed his own intrinsic style by merging multiple styles that already exist with his own characteristics. “I did this by combining the characteristics of my favorite artists who I can relate to most in style compatibility.”
Uvindu says that he has been inspired by artists such as Jim Lee, the artist of Batman Hush, Joe Madureira who created Darksiders, Alex Sinclair, Stanley Lau, Andy Seto, Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes the list goes on and on.
Anime and Manga
He has also been inspired by Anime to a certain extent. “I follow up on the most popular Anime and I read Manga from time to time, so there is some influence, especially when it comes to action illustrations.” But other than the minor aspects of drawing, Uvindu says his work is not heavily influenced by Manga or Anime.
When asked how Anime differs from comics, Uvindu observes that Anime is essentially a form of Manga that it (???) Japanese comics. He explained that they are entirely different from the pop culture comics. “From the basic structure to the storytelling, they are very different from each other. For instance, Manga is not read from left to right like a regular comic, instead it has to be read right to left, even when its translated,” explained Uvindu. He opined that although Manga and comics are both equally good storytelling platforms, Manga is always associated with Asian, mostly Japanese, cultures while comics are global. “My personal opinion is that it’s a matter of the words, and that Manga is a sub branch of the international comics platform.”
Growing up he was a huge DC fan, as he still is. His most loved characters were The Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern. “Because these characters had so much depth to them, and their character development fascinated me,” confides Uvindu. But one character in particular played a critical role in shaping his personality as an artist. That would be Nightwing.
When asked whether his comics will entail the kind of violence that comics are notorious for, Uvindu says that they will contain a certain level of violence so long as it serves a purpose. “Violence serves an artistic purpose. You can’t really convey the intensity of a fight scene without showing some blood.” Uvindu is of the opinion that violence is essential for art. “Human beings enjoy violence to a certain extent, that’s why it’s in the movies, the comics, video games and that’s why boxing is a sport and Rome has a Colosseum.”
Whether comics can be considered ‘real literature’ is a subject of debate, some even consider it inferior to, say poetry or drama, a fact with which Uvindu whole heartedly disagrees. “Having been an average reader since childhood, and having read the so-called classics all my life, I have come across independent comics that instill moral values and can be considered great literature than most renowned classics.” For instance, he pointed out that comics like Sandman from Vertigo Comics and Watchmen from DC Comics or even independent comics like ‘Buddha the graphic novel’ by Deepak Chopra discuss more social and metaphysical issues than most classics.
Comic Vs movie
Comics are rarely bestowed the same prestige as movies, even movies that are based on comics. Uvindu explained that it is impossible for a movie to be made based on the exact storyline of a comic. “That’s why the comic is always overshadowed by the movie. It’s much easier to watch a two hour movie than to follow up on years of comics.” Uvindu concedes that it is understandable, but slightly disappointing. “There are brilliant comics out there that aren’t even recognised outside a certain circle let alone being adapted into a movie.”
On the other hand it’s impossible to encapsulate the entire essence of a comic into a comic book movie points out Uvindu. “Take for example the movie ‘Watchmen’ by Zack Snyder, I watched the movie first and thought it was absolutely stunning. It’s one of my favorite movies. But I read the comics later and realized that there was much more to the comic than I saw in the movie. I won’t deny the fact that the movie was good too, but it’s just not as good as the comics.”
Uvindu thinks it best to appreciate comics and movies for the different art forms they are, sans comparison. “Because, a movie production doesn’t have the freedom of an empty book and a pencil.”
When asked, whether comics are a good tool to instill moral values, Uvindu was quick to affirm. “Characters presented through comics are epitomes of both good and evil. Children base their personalities around the stories they read and the heroes they see growing up. Maybe they won’t be able to lift trains or fly into deep space, but they will have the heart of superman or the brain of batman.” Uvindu’s logic is quite simple; to steal a line from Norman Vincent Peale ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’